Voice and tone for stronger product UX

Standard Beagle
6 min readOct 3, 2022

We often associate the voice and tone of the writing in B2B products with branding, but it also impacts the user experience (UX). How users interpret the text on the screen can have just as much of an impact on the UX as its aesthetic and flow. Without the right voice and tone, users may misinterpret meaning and even feel negatively about the product.

In fact, voice and tone can be the difference between a user who only uses your product once versus a loyal fan.

What is voice in content writing?

What do we mean by voice? Voice is how our brand speaks to our users and potential users. It’s the product’s personality, and by establishing voice, you showcase how your brand “speaks.”

Every brand has its own voice. If you are a healthcare organization, how would you want to talk to your patients? If you are a retailer that caters to teens, how would you speak to them?

For example, at Standard Beagle, we’ve defined our voice as:

  • Plainspoken
    We avoid jargon as much as possible and aim for clarity. There’s no need for extra fluff if we can speak in plain terms.
  • Genuine
    We always try to speak with authenticity and honesty.
  • Casual
    Our voice is casual and leans toward humor. We inject fun into our writing to be more approachable.
  • Inclusive
    We understand that our clients and readers come from a variety of different backgrounds.

What is tone in UX writing?

The tone of content writing goes hand-in-hand with the voice. Voice and tone work together to establish the relationship between your product and the user.

While a brand’s voice remains consistent, tone will change in a way that’s empathetic to the reader’s emotional state. Users may use our products while feeling any one of a number of different emotions.

UX writing should adjust its tone based on what the user may be feeling at that time.

For example, when a user interacts with a product, the user may feel pleased and even happy. If the user runs into an error while in this emotional state, the tone of writing can match those emotions.

Example

Error Notification

The voice remains casual in this example, and the tone is enthusiastic and warm.

Here’s another common example — let’s imagine our product uses a chat-bot. The chat-bot’s responses can adjust its tone based on how the user interacts with it.

User:

“I think I have a problem. Could you help?”

Chat-bot:

“Of course! I’m happy to help. Let me gather some information from you…”

On the other hand, when a user is angry, the tone needs to adjust. Imagine that the user is reporting a problem to the chat-bot, but the tone is angry and annoyed. The chat-bot should adjust, instead of responding with the same enthusiasm.

User:

“Will you hurry? I’m so frustrated with this issue. It’s happened too many times!”

Chat-bot:

“Thank you for reporting the issue to us. I can help you with this and resolve the issue.”

We often think of writing when we talk about tone, but tone can also apply to the visual and interaction design. It applies to all touchpoints with customers.

What’s the difference between voice and tone?

Here’s how we think about it: Consider your own voice. Your voice remains consistent, but your tone may change to match the emotions of the person you’re engaging with or the situation at hand.

Imagine the workplace. Think about how your tone differs if you were engaging with a colleague in talking about a funny TV show versus how you would speak to a customer unhappy with your company’s work. You still have the same voice, but your tone changes. Your tone may be light-hearted with your colleague and serious or subdued while speaking with the customer. But your voice remains consistent — you still sound like you, not matter how you’re tone adjusts.

How to define a product’s voice and tone

Defining your product’s voice and tone is an important step in crafting a strong user experience that appeals to your customers. Because voice and tone should be consistent on all channels, the outcome should apply to every touchpoint.

Know your audience

In order to define voice and tone, your first step is to empathize with your audience. Think about your audience. How would you talk to them in person? How do they want to be spoken to?

This step may require user research. Through research you can learn how users perceive your brand and how they feel when they interact with your products.

Research can take many forms. One of the most effective forms of research is qualitative user interviews, where you talk with a sampling of customers and interview them about their experiences with your products.

You may benefit from creating a user persona and journey map to understand and communicate how users experience your product to your product teams.

Define brand voice

The next step in crafting a product’s voice and tone is defining the brand voice. What are your personality traits? This part is unique to you and your brand. Knowing what you are and what you ARE NOT is a key step in defining voice.

Define the voice so that your product’s personality balances with your ideal customers’ expectations.

You can use a spreadsheet to draft each personality trait and how it translates into how you interact and don’t interact with customers.

Add tonality

Next, what tones are associated with each personality state? Remember, tone can be dialed up and down to match user emotions, but the underlying voice never changes.

For example:

Voice
Casual

Tone

  • Playful
  • Friendly
  • Informal
  • Respectful

Map tone to user emotional states

Now that you know your user and your voice and tone, think about the full range of emotions you users may experience when interacting with your product. Be honest about how they may perceive it. Review the persona and journey map you created and create a chart where you can see the user’s emotions on a scale.

Then map your tone of voice to the emotional states. How would users respond to your tone of voice in various situations, through every interaction through the product? Think about their preferences so you can better respond to their needs.

Create writing guidelines

After you’ve determined how best to communicate with your users through multiple emotional states, it’s time to communicate this to your team. Create writing guidelines that clearly define how your brand should and should not communicate. Be sure to include examples.

MailChimp has a voice and tone guide available to review. They have outlined exactly what their brand is, and even more important what they are not. Check out their online branding guidelines.

Continue to measure and learn

Once you apply your voice and tone to all product interactions, continue to measure how users’ perceive your product. You may need to adjust your tone over time as your customers or society changes.

Continue to empathize with users so that you can continue to optimize the user experience.

Originally published at https://standardbeagle.com on October 3, 2022.

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Standard Beagle

Award-winning UX agency for digital B2B products. Standard Beagle provides UX research and product design for B2B tech and enterprise software companies.